In mid-February we flew from Chihuahua Mexico to the southernmost tip of Baja California on our favorite Mexican airline, Interjet. We picked up our rental car at the San Jose del Cabo airport and immediately drove two hours north to La Paz, the small capital city of Baja California Sur along the shores of a gigantic bay on the Sea of Cortez (Gulf of California). There we moved into an air bnb condominium that we’d reserved for the next ten days.
We had reasons for visiting Baja Sur. We wanted to kayak and snorkel with the whales, hike into the mountains, and investigate Baja for possible relocation; a place to establish a home base, or at least a winter home, from which to continue traveling. But Baja is expensive and we are budget travelers; not hostel-hopping backpackers, but not all-inclusive resort types either. So, traveling around Baja on a budget is a special challenge. We have summarized our findings about this at the end of this article.
NOTE: The 800-mile long peninsula that forms Baja California is divided into two Mexican states; Baja California to the north, and Baja California Sur to the south. It stretches from the U.S. border below San Diego to the dramatic, rocky tip at Cabo San Lucas. The land is a severe desert of cordon cactus and elephant trees, but it is bounded on the west by the Pacific Ocean and on the east by the Sea of Cortez. Stark desert mountains rise in the middle and along parts of the coast where pine and junipers grow at higher elevations and caves hide ancient pictographs. There are busy, touristy cities, but vast areas of desert and shoreline wilderness too.
The two oceans support an incredible diversity of sea-life where whale sharks cruise and the bays off both coasts provide major breeding grounds for grey whales, humpbacks, fin whales, blues and more. Jacque Cousteau called the Sea of Cortez the world’s aquarium and John Steinbeck wrote stories about Baja’s remote coasts. Despite the harsh desert, winter temperatures are warm, but not hot, with cool, often chilly, nights. Wintertime water temperatures in the Sea of Cortez were cool, but swimmable, averaging around 70 degrees F (20 degrees C). The Pacific is a bit cooler and many people use shorty wetsuits to snorkel.
To our RV and tent camping friends: During our travels around Baja Sur we found that the main trans-peninsular highway 1 is in generally good shape except for a few notorious stretches of potholes especially around Guerro Negro and Santa Rosalia. But, most of the secondary roads off of the main highway quickly degenerate into rough gravel or sandy jeep tracks. Streets through towns are narrow and not signed very well, so beware of entering areas that you don’t know how to get out of.
There are plenty of RV parks with water and power in almost every city and free camping in more remote areas, without water or power, on many beaches along the Sea of Cortez. RV parks in the major towns have dump stations. Fuel (gas and diesel) is readily available, but expensive at about $4/gallon U.S. The website allaboutbaja.com lists a number of RV parks and camping areas along with excellent information about Baja in general. We’ll describe some of the areas we checked out personally in the stories below.
SCAM ALERT! We had reserved a rental car on Travelocity for 28-days, but when we picked it up the agency (Europcar) advised us we had to buy Mexican liability insurance for a whopping $750 usd, a cost we hadn’t planned for! Having traveled extensively in Mexico before we knew that liability insurance was required, but the agency and Travelocity made no mention of the cost and we were taken by surprise (along with some other visitors who were also being charged). We were stuck – we had reservations in La Paz and needed the car for traveling, so we paid, but we felt tricked. If you rent a car in Baja be sure to check out this hidden cost and check your existing car insurance policy. Some insurers will add on a rider for Mexican liability insurance at a fraction of the cost so check with your insurance company before renting – unfortunately, ours didn’t.
Follow this link to a map of our route through Baja California Sur: Driving Route in Baja Sur
LA PAZ: So, starting off with a bad taste in our mouths from the surprise insurance cost, we drove the two hours to La Paz and found it easy to get around in with a pleasant malecon (boardwalk) and far less frenetic than Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo. But, our real interest was exploring the areas outside of the city. We soon found Balandra Bay, a popular, large bay 15-miles out of town on the Sea of Cortez that is so shallow you can wade all the way across it. Though there were lots of people there, it wasn’t mobbed and the beaches were clean and sandy. There are no services there; no vendors, no beachside restaurants, no bars, just the beach, the desert and the sea, so bring your cooler and drinks with you. We waded and swam around the rocky point to the famous mushroom rock formation watching schools of yellow tail fish swim before us. I continued on with snorkel and fins to yet another bay beyond that which was completely deserted.
Balandra was nice, but just a few miles further north at road’s end is Tecalote Beach. Here there was a small collection of palapas (thatch-roofed huts) selling seafood and then, uninhabited shoreline stretching away as far as you could see with dramatic volcanic mountains rising behind the cactus forests and sand dunes and the large island of Espiritu Santo a few miles offshore. Near the palapas twenty or so travel trailers and large RV busses were set up right on the beach. Camping here is free, but no water or dump stations although vendors bring out fresh water and there are dump stations at RV parks in La Paz. I snorkeled off the rocky shore and the whole area was a spectacularly beautiful.
We took a half-day kayak tour of some nearby bays outside of La Paz, but we could have driven to most of them and the tour was expensive at $150 usd. Still we enjoyed paddling around the mangroves and watching sea lions swim around a rocky point until we came upon a dead whale rotting in the shallows. It had most likely been hit by a ship coming into the busy commercial port nearby.
The next day we drove an hour southward along the coast to the small kite-surfing beaches at La Ventana. This is a massive, almost deserted beach that stretches for many miles along a huge bay. In the middle of town is the La Ventana municipal park with fifty or more RVs of every size and shape parked along the beach. Cost is $5,500 pesos per month ($81 usd) and they have clean bathrooms with showers, a dump station, garbage pick-up, and some community water spigots with slightly salty water (haul in your drinking water). You pay whenever a city park manager happens along. There were a couple of RV parks in town as well for $35/night, but the municipal park was much nicer at a fraction of the cost.
Back in La Paz, I took a 4-hour tour to swim with whale sharks for $35. Along with our neighbor at the air bnb condominium I boarded a small boat with an older French woman and two middle-aged Americans. We waited on a sandy beach for our turn to approach the whale sharks (access to the sharks is strictly controlled by CONANP, the Mexican regulatory agency). The wind chilled us as we waited on the beach and I was getting hesitant to jump into the cool sea. But, the guide gave us shorty wet suits to wear as we motored out to the area in La Paz Bay where the animals were concentrated and we soon saw twenty or thirty of them slowly swimming near the surface. Our guide picked a large shark nearby and we jumped off the boat with our snorkels and swam alongside the slow-moving giant. It was twenty feet long with a huge mouth and a massive, swishing tail, a bit unsettling to be just four feet away from, but I swam alongside him until I couldn’t keep up anymore. We climbed back into the boat, now rocking roughly in the waves, and repeated the process with three or four other sharks until we were all tired of jumping off and climbing back aboard the boat. That was well worth the money spent.
As it turned out, old friends, Casey and Laura, from Washington State were house sitting a beachside mansion in the expat town of Los Barriles, a two hour drive south of La Paz. We drove down to see them and ended up spending the night with them in the impressive house they were guarding. It was good to see old friends and we walked around the community and ate fish tacos in town. Along the way back to La Paz I noticed a road in the middle of the desert called at Agua Blanca that led into the Sierra de la Laguna, a wilderness of high peaks. I noted that for later exploration as we drove back to La Paz.
We spent the rest of our time in La Paz returning to Balandra and Tecolote, relaxing at the condominium, and eating fish tacos at The Bismarck and Las Magueyes, our favorite restaurants in town. Then, it was time to move on – northward. The first stop, Loreto.
LORETO: Loreto is a small city, a large town actually, set along Loreto Bay National Park and at the base of the impressive Sierra de la Giganta (the mountains of the giant). Expecting a busy cruise ship port full of sunburned tourists, we were pleasantly surprised to find a laid back small town instead (the upscale tourist areas are outside of Loreto in resort areas). As a bonus, we discovered an excellent micro-brewed beer, Zopilote Brewing in Loreto, and finally had an excellent IPA instead of the commercial beers that are all that you can find in most of Mexico. We settled into a comfortable air bnb rental, a small house on the edge of town, for $50/night.
A cold front blew in as we entered Loreto and for the next two days it was too cool and windy to snorkel or swim, so I hiked into Tabor Canyon, ten miles south of Loreto. It was a rough, boulder hopping climb into a beautiful canyon with clear water pools and small waterfalls. About a ½ mile in I came to a large chock stone set in a deep pool surrounded by sheer canyon walls. This stopped my progress into the upper canyon. I could have climbed around it up a short, vertical rock face, but it would have been dangerous coming back down without a rope, so I turned around and hiked back out.
The following day was still windy and chilly, so we drove 35 kilometers up into the Sierra de la Giganta to the old mission of San Xavier. This old Jesuit mission, along with the tiny town surrounding it, was built in 1700 and was remarkably well preserved and remote even today. The surrounding volcanic mountains were magnificent and the mission was set below the rimrock of the higher peaks with gnarled, 300-year old olive trees lining the shady valley bottom. For anyone visiting Loreto this is a well worthwhile side trip.
On our third day it was still chilly in the morning, but we wanted to get out on the water. So, we went to the local fisherman’s co-op at the lighthouse on the waterfront and contracted with a local fisherman to take us out to Coronado Island, the nearest of the large islands in the bay, for $1,800 pesos ($100 usd). We had to bring our own lunch and water, but tour companies in town were charging almost twice that amount to take us there. Instead, we had a small boat all to ourselves; it was a private tour.
We spent most of the day snorkeling and hiking around Coronado Island, a stark but beautiful volcanic cone rising out of the clear, turquoise water. Our captain took us around the island to see the fantastic rocky points covered in barking sea lions and sleeping pelicans. It was a day well spent.
When we returned we asked if they could take us to the much larger and more distant Isla Carmen, the huge island 25 kilometers across the bay from Loreto and in the center of Loreto Bay National Park. We were checking to see if we could camp on the island for a few nights, being dropped off and picked up by the local fisherman’s union. This remote island has bighorn sheep in the mountains, a unique and isolated community on the eastern seaward side, and a sheltered bay with caves, beaches, reefs and mangroves to camp on the western side.
The fisherman’s co-op said they could haul all our gear including kayaks, tour us around the island, drop us off at a designated camp area, and pick us up a few days later all for $8,000 pesos ($434 usd). Considering the distance and difficulty to reach the island, and the unique experience this would be, we thought this was a good deal, especially if we split the cost with some friends. Permission to camp on the island is granted through CONANP, the Mexican national park regulatory agency, for 33 pesos per day ($1.80 usd). CONANP has an office right behind the fisherman’s co-op, where you can register to camp on Isla Carmen. We’ve filed this information away for next year when we hope to return with all our camping gear and kayaks.
We finished the day with fish tacos at La Palapa, now our favorite restaurant in Loreto, and checked out a couple of RV parks in town. Full hookup sites were available for $18 – $25 usd per night, but the parks were crowded. After an evening walk through downtown we turned in early to rest up for our drive northward to Mulegé, a small town in palm trees along a river at the mouth of the huge Bahia Concepcion (Conception Bay).
MULEGE: The two-hour drive from Loreto to Mulege on good, but narrow, highway 1 passes through vast deserts of cordon cactus, isolated ranches and volcanic peaks before you drop down to the shores of massive Bahia Concepcion (Conception Bay). Soon white sand beaches started appearing, one after another, separated from each other by rugged volcanic headlands. Each beach had its collection of RVs camping on the beach by the clear blue water of the bay. We stopped at an overlook over the bay and saw a blue whale basking in the water below us – a good sign.
We had an air bnb cottage reserved outside of Mulege, but drove into town for lunch first. The tiny town is located in a date palm oasis along the Mulege River and had a couple main streets and a few small restaurants and B&Bs. Walking back to the car after lunch I saw an interesting store selling hammocks and a second-hand store selling used diving gear. By the time we left town I’d bought a brightly colored hammock for $24 and a used shorty wet suit for $22.
But, when we arrived at our air bnb cottage in the expat community of Oasis del Rio on the southern edge of town we were disappointed. It was small, cold and uncomfortable, the futon couch so dirty we couldn’t sit on it, but at least the bed was comfortable, the bathroom clean, had plenty of hot water and strong WiFi. At $62/night it was expensive and later we found some some B&Bs and hotels around town that offered better rooms with more amenities for about $55/night. The Hotel Serenidad even had a swimming pool. After settling into our basic bungalow we went to the nearby Hotel Sernidad for their famous roast pig dinner; but were disappointed again. The lobby was full of loud, drunk American and Canadian RVers and for $25/plate we had some tasteless pork ribs and beans. Hopefully the rest of our stay in Mulege would be better.
The next day we drove two hours northward along highway 1 to San Ignacio, a tiny mission village at the head of Ignacio Bay on the Pacific side of the Baja Peninsula. Driving northward from Mulege, we passed through the dismal mining town of Santa Rosalia before entering the magnificent deserts of El Vizcaino, a million acre preserve of volcanic peaks and cordon cactus desert. We entered the date palm oasis of San Ignacio and toured the ancient mission there, built in the early 1700s, and bought some date pies and breads. There is a small RV park as you enter the town set among the palms by the lagoon; no service for about $5 – $10/night. The drive from Mulege to San Ignacio was worth the time (except for Santa Rosalia which should be passed through as quickly as possible).
It was a pleasant day, but we were getting tired of driving and decided to spend the rest of our time in Mulege exploring local areas. So, we called a local tour operator, Salvador Castro (tel 52 615 161 4985), and signed up for an all-day trip out to Rancho Trinidad to see the ancient cave paintings there. The Mexican archeological protection agency requires you have a guide to visit the cave paintings in Baja, so, even though we wanted to drive our own car out to them we had no choice but to hire a guide. The trip cost us $1,000 pesos each for the guide, plus $100 pesos each for entry permits, and another $46 pesos each for permission to take photos, a total of $124 usd for both of us.
NOTE: Tour companies in San Ignacio offer multi-day camping trips to larger cave painting sites in the San Francisco Mountains near San Ignacio, but these cost about $600 usd each. This is probably worth the cost and something we’d do next time we get there.
Salvador speaks excellent English and picked us up our bungalow in his van at 8:15 in the morning. We then picked up three older American at a nearby B&B, a young French/Cuban couple in town, and then four middle aged Italians. We drove to an ancient, tumble-down stone building in town to pick up our photo permits, then out of town and up a large wash into the ranch and farm country outside of Mulege.
We were glad we didn’t try to drive ourselves out to Rancho Trinidad; the road was far too rough and rocky. We stopped to buy some organic oranges and grapefruit from the local farmers, then bounced through the gravel wash for another hour to the ranch. Along the way we stopped to see gigantic cordon cactus while Salvador explained the medicinal uses of the desert plants around us. We finally reached Rancho Trinidad, a tidy little outpost set against the starkly beautiful Guadalupe Mountains.
We hiked an easy quarter mile up the canyon with a small stream of clear water running through it behind the ranch and entered a large cave where surprisingly well-preserved murals in red, white and black pigments depicted deer hunts, whales and the hand prints of children. These paintings have been dated as 7,000 years old, yet they appeared bright and clear. Salvador explained the paintings to us, then we walked back to the ranch where he provided us sandwiches and drinks before we bounced and ground our way back down the gravel wash not getting back to our bungalow until 4 pm. It was a great day and just the ride out to the ranch had been worth the cost, much less the cave paintings themselves. We finished the day with dinner in town and, as a group of great horned owls hooted from the palm trees around our bungalow, planned our last day in Mulege. The cold front that had blown in a week ago persisted and it was still chilly at night and the days cool and breezy. But, we had to see some of those magnificent beaches we had passed along the shores of Bahia Concepcion.
Our last day in Mulege we drove to the beaches along Bahia Concepcion, but it was windy and cool. I tried snorkeling in the protected bay at El Burro beach, but the waves rolling in stirred the shallow sands and visibility was almost zero. It was too windy to rent a kayak and paddle out to the nearby islands, so we gave up and returned to our bungalow to relax. Unfortunately, the weather forecast was for more wind and cool temperatures. So, we decided to move on from Mulege to the Pacific side of the peninsula to see the grey whales at Puerto Lopez Mateos on Magdelena Bay. We finished our stay in Mulege with a dinner at a local seafood restaurant with the American RVers we’d met on the cave painting trip, an interesting group of two older women and a man traveling together in a car (they’d left their RVs in the U.S. like us).
MAGDALENA BAY: Some travelers we met said the best whale watching they’d found was at Puerto Lopez Mateos on Magdalena Bay off of the Pacific Ocean. So, we drove the five hours from Mulege to Lopez Mateos finding the small fishing town a depressing, industrial place, but with grey whales congregated within view of the local boat dock. There were small hotels for $35/night in Lopez Mateos, but we didn’t want to stay there, so we returned to the industrial agricultural town of Constitucion and spent the night in a budget hotel there instead for $35 usd.
First thing the next morning we drove back to Lopez Mateos, hired a guide with a boat from the fisherman’s co-op at the dock for $1,300 pesos ($70 usd) and set out into the narrow bay. Within five minutes we had come upon a mother grey whale herding her calf and floated along with them for a half hour or so as they surfaced and spouted right next to our boat. The calf would swim up, roll on to its side, and lie on the back of the mother looking at us as they floated by just a couple feet away. Then I realized what whale watching here was all about – the whales were watching us!
We asked for an additional hour of time with the guide and he took us to the mouth of the bay where it enters the Pacific. There we saw many more whales until we came across another mother and calf that floated right up to us. The calf frolicked around our boat while the mother basked quietly underneath us. The calf tapped its head against our boat and lifted its head out of the water while Sonia petted it. By then there were whales all around us, surfacing and spouting, almost all of them pairs of mothers with their calves. This was an incredible experience and well worth the travel and cheap hotels to get there.
We returned to the port, ate breakfast there, and then drove the six-hours to our next stop; remote Cabo Pulmo on the Sea of Cortez and near the southern tip of Baja California. Cabo Pulmo is a Mexican national park and the largest coral reef in Baja California. Having read that it was very remote, we reserved a cabin with Cabo Pulmo Sports Center for $55/night.
CABO PULMO: We drove out of the hot, over-grazed cactus plains of Lopez Mateos into the desert mountains of El Triunfo, past the expat town of Los Barriles, and finally down a rough dirt road into Cabo Pulmo arriving after dark. We soon found the bungalow we’d reserved and went to bed exhausted from the long drive.
The next morning we walked to the beach and watched the sun rise over the Sea of Cortez. When we returned we reserved a snorkeling tour of some off-shore reefs with Cabo Pulmo Sports Center for $50/ usd each. The tour didn’t leave until ten in the morning, so we walked through the tiny settlement to Caballeros, the only place in the area serving breakfast. Along the way we saw that there were a number of places renting bungalows and a couple of restaurants in the tiny village.
Sonia wasn’t feeling well, so I went on the snorkeling tour alone. I boarded the small launch with six other snorkelers and we ran out to a reef where we saw multi-colored parrot fish, trigger fish and puffers. Then we ran to the southern end of the bay where a colony of sea lions barked at us as we snorkeled around them, some of them swimming up to us as we swam around their rocky point. We made a couple more stops at quiet bays with clear water seeing more fish, but didn’t see any sea turtles which also live in this area. It was a good trip and when I walked off of the boat I heard someone calling to me. It was Laura and Casey, our friends from Los Barriles. They had driven down to snorkel with their son, daughter and grand-daughter. Sonia and I had lunch with them at La Palapa, now our favorite restaurant in town, before they left.
The following morning I woke up early to take a three-mile hike into the surrounding low mountains on a trail leading out of town that I’d noticed the day before. The trail started off along a dusty ranch road through a forest of cordon cactus, then along a fairly defined boot track into the low mountains, and finally disappeared altogether. But, I found my way to a rocky saddle between two low peaks where I found a wooden bench and the trail reappeared. The views across the bays out to the Sea of Cortez in the morning light were worth the effort.
When I returned Sonia and I drove 5 kilometers south to Los Arbolitos beach near the rocky point south of Cabo Pulmo. We drove further south to Los Frailes beach, but found it a trashy fish camp, so returned to Arbolitos. We paid a 40 peso each entry fee and the small sandy beach was nice, but it was hot and not much shade, so we walked over a rocky point to find a shady spot against the cliff faces there. While Sonia waded at the beach I snorkeled around the rocky point seeing more colorful fish and a few heads of coral. It was a nice day and we finished it off with a lobster dinner at La Palapa.
We liked Cabo Pulmo, but the reefs here can’t compare to the spectacular reefs of the Caribbean coast of Mexico and the waters of the Sea of Cortez were a bit too cool for Sonia’s comfort. Also, if you want to experience Cabo Pulmo as it is now – laid back, quiet, and remote – then do it within the next couple of years. The inexorable pressure of development is swallowing it up and the whole East Cape is for sale with luxury homes are sprouting up all the way from Cabo Pulmo all the way to San Jose del Cabo. It can’t last much longer.
We decided to move on to the historical small town of Todos Santos back on the Pacific coast. As we drove out of Cabo Pulmo we noticed a number of tent campers and small RVs set up in the sand dunes overlooking the beach on the north edge of town. This was the free camping area we’d heard about and we filed away that information for future reference.
TODOS SANTOS: Another long drive, over four hours from Cabo Pulmo to Todos Santos. Since Todos Santos is only a 45-minute drive from the mega-tourist area of Los Cabos, we expected it to be touristy – and it was. Still, it is a clean little town with plenty of restaurants and hotels including The Hotel California, supposedly the inspiration for The Eagles famous song. The Tropic of Cancer passes through the southern end of town, so after Todos Santos, you are officially in the tropics.
Surfing is the big draw here and we reserved a room at the Perro Surfero (the surf dog). This funky little place was an eclectic compound of concrete rooms with a community kitchen. It was comfortable enough, but still under construction and expensive at $60 usd/night. We knew we wouldn’t be staying there for very long.
We spent a day walking around the town, and another day driving out to Las Palmas, an undeveloped beach down an unmarked sandy road south of town. But, the surf at Las Palmas was rough and the day windy, so we sipped our beers in the shade of a cliff face before walking back to the car. The next day we drove north to the surfing beaches outside of town finding an excellent family operated restaurant there, Cleo’s. But, we were ready to move on from Todos Santos and since we were leaving Baja soon, we decided to bite the bullet and make our final move into the mega tourist area of Cabo San Lucas.
CABO SAN LUCAS/SAN JOSE DEL CABO: The southern tip of the Baja Peninsula ends in a spectacular rocky point with its iconic stone arch where the Sea of Cortez meets the Pacific Ocean. It’s a fitting end for such a dramatic land. But, the twin cities of Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo (together called Los Cabos) surrounding the rocky point are a mega-tourist area complete with cruise ships, condominiums lining the shores, traffic, mobs of sweaty, lobster-red tourists, and, . . . it’s expensive. Even air bnb apartments cost close to $100 usd per night and, since uber hasn’t been able to establish here yet, local taxi companies have a stranglehold monopoly on local transportation with taxis costing $80 usd just to get to the airport. That leaves only slow, crowded city busses as an economical means to get around. When you rent an apartment a 20% tax is added which usually isn’t included in the advertised rental cost. For the first time since traveling all over Baja we were pestered by vendors selling everything from tours to time shares. For a budget traveler it sounds horrible, but the trick for visiting Los Cabos is not to stay in Los Cabos.
We rented a suite in the Sunrock Condos, an older condominium complex a few miles outside of Cabo San Lucas, for $126/night. It was bargain for Los Cabos; clean and quiet with two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen, and a small swimming pool. As we drove in from Todos Santos we stopped at Walmart in Los Cabos and stocked up on groceries.
Just a few miles outside of the stress, noise and traffic Los Cabos the rugged wilderness of the Sierra de La Laguna rises thousands of feet while the quieter beaches of the East Cape stretch northward along the Sea of Cortez all the way to Cabo Pulmo. We tried exploring some of these areas but found the East Cape under heavy development with lots and community homes going in all around the cape and roads into the sierra too rough for our little rental car.
Halfway between Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo we found the small public beach at Playa Santa Maria with its gentle surf and fish-filled reefs, and that became our getaway spot. Next to it is another small, quiet public beach, La Viuda. There are no services at these beaches, no vendors hawking souvenirs, no fast food huts; just the beach and the reefs. We would go to Playa Santa Maria early in the morning to snorkel with the thousands of fish swarming around the reefs while humpback whales jumped out of the Pacific at the mouth of the small bay. But, by noon the idyllic beach was crowded and the reefs full of snorkeling tours from Cabo San Lucas and it was time to leave. It is one of the last undeveloped beaches around Los Cabos, but will soon be gone. As we relaxed and swam, construction crews were building condominiums right up to the edge of the pretty little beach.
We used the rest of our time in Los Cabos taking advantage of our comfortable condo to take care of business; planning our budget for the upcoming year, planning our travels along with catching up on some movies, reading and writing, and relaxing around the pool.
Los Cabos is in a beautiful place, but we won’t be back unless we fly in there in order to immediately leave for the quieter, wilder coast of the Sea of Cortez much further north.
SUMMARY: Would Baja Sur be our new home base? Was it all that we hoped it would be? Would we return? Well, yes and no.
Baja is beautiful, but too harsh, expensive and remote for us to establish a home base there. Everything has to be shipped in, so food and services are expensive and limited. Summers are roasting hot, fresh water is limited, and many areas outside of the cities are off-grid requiring expensive solar systems or generators that are hard to maintain. But, the Sea of Cortez is amazing and we would definitely return for extended winter stays. But, we’d do it differently next time.
For us, Baja is all about the water, specifically the Sea of Cortez. The Pacific is beautiful as well, but too rough and cold for spending too much time there. The mountains offer other opportunities of hiking and camping and there are endless areas to explore in the Sierra de la Giganta, Sierra de San Francisco, Sierra de la Laguna.
There are lots of RV parks and camping areas and, since rental cars are so expensive, the temptation is to travel around Baja in a RV. But, other than the main trans-peninsular highway 1, the back roads are rough and we want to get into the outback. Also, we would want to locate somewhere central to the areas we are interested in and stay there for a few months (moving around too often is tiring and uncomfortable for us). We also realized that you need a boat to really get around; out to the more remote areas and to see the magnificent marine wildlife of the Sea of Cortez. Nothing fancy, but something large enough to cross the open waters of the large bays. A sixteen to twenty-foot runabout with a twenty to forty horsepower outboard motor would do it.
So, if we return, we would drive down in a sturdy 4X4 (probably a 4WD pickup truck), loaded with camping gear and kayaks, and towing a boat on a trailer. We would rent a house on a monthly basis and from that base we could kayak and hike where we want, while returning to relax in a comfortable place in between our explorations. The best place we’ve seen to do that is Loreto with the Sierra de la Giganta behind it and facing huge Loreto Bay with its islands and lagoons. Just a few hours drive from Loreto are the whale watching areas on the Pacific coast and the large stores (Walmart, Sam’s Club) at La Paz for re-supplying.
But now, it’s time to get back to the U.S., pick up our truck and trailer from storage, and start migrating northward. North, through the red rock canyons of Utah, the vast deserts of Nevada and southeastern Oregon, and into the Pacific Northwest in time for summer.